Inside this imposing and elaborate gilded canopic shrine was the alabaster chest that contained the four canopic miniature coffins. At each side of this shrine stands an elegant statue of one of the four female divinities in charge of protecting the deceased king, their faces turned slightly to one side and their arms stretched out in a gesture of protection. These goddesses are Isis, Nephthys, Neith, and Serket.
The outer canopy of gilded wood, fixed to a sledge, consists of four square corner posts supporting a projecting cavetto cornice topped by a frieze of uraei, or rearing cobras, with solar disks. A cavetto cornice is a concave molding with a cross section that approximates a quarter circle. Scenes of the protective deities are incised in relief on the sides of the shrine.
Canopic Shrine of King Tutankhamun
Spreading her arms in protection, a gilded wooden statue of the goddess Serket guards a shrine from King Tutankhamun’s tomb. On her head is a scorpion, her identifying feature. Inside the shrine stood a calcite chest containing the jars that held the king’s viscera.
Medical practice in ancient Egypt was quite developed: they understood that diseases could be treated with drugs, recognized the healing potential in massages and aromas, had male and female doctors who specialized in specific areas, and understood the importance of cleansing in the treatment of patients.
Related: Edwin Smith Medical papyrus
Magic was also joined with medical practice: to make a treatment more effective, the doctor pronounced magic formulas identifying himself with a deity.
Among the divine creatures invoked, there is also the goddess Serket, often represented with a scorpion on her head, to heal the bites of poisonous creatures.
Not surprisingly, the goddess’s full name was “Serket hetyt”, meaning “she who makes the throat breathe”, and it seems to refer to the fact that the scorpion can be fatally dangerous, and the goddess can heal or destroy.
Detail of a gilded statue of the goddess Serket from the Canopic shrine of Tutankhamun
Canopic chests are cases used by ancient Egyptians to contain the internal organs removed during the process of mummification. The Canopic jars usually contained the liver, intestines, lungs, and stomach.
There was no jar for the heart: the ancient Egyptians believed it to be the seat of the soul, and so it was left inside the body. The jars protected them so the deceased could bring them on their journey to the Afterlife.
New Kingdom, late 18th Dynasty, reign of Tutankhamun, ca. 1332-1323 BC. From the Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62), Valley of the Kings, West Thebes. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 60686